Apr 2, 2016

Short Story: "Soul-Marks"

No, the real problem was the other name inscribed down his forearm. If it could be called a name. It looked more like a jumble of letters, like someone tossed a handful of blocks into a printing press. IEJNUARTE. Adair couldn't even begin to pronounce whatever it was.


(For Camp NaNoWriMo this April I'm working on two projects: continuing to rewrite book 1 and writing silly little short stories to distract me from the frustration of a rewrite. One of my tumblr friends did a "Soulmate AU" story and I realized that as cheesy as they are, I've always wanted to do one of these! Since almost none of my characters go by their real names, the "soulmate's names tattooed on their body" prompt was too amusing for me not to use! It starts off angsty, but the rest of this isn't, I promise. It does, however, contain the necessary amount of cheesiness for an AU. And since my husband was a bit confused about the concept, this is an alternate reality story, essentially fanfic of my own characters. They don't really have name tattoos.)

Unexpected Inspiration Short Story - "Soul-Marks"


Etri loved nightfall because in the dark he didn't need his magic to make himself invisible. Sitting atop the wagon-home of his best friend in the middle of the night, he was as good as hidden in the shadow of the chimney pipe. Right now Etri wanted to be invisible. His heart shouldn't be aching with regret and jealousy. He'd known this was going to happen ever since he learned what the marks meant. His brother had found his mate.

He pressed his lips together and rolled up his sleeve, safe in the knowledge that no one could possibly see his arm while he sat in his personal haunt. He trailed his fingertips over the dark celestial symbols that stood stark and taunting against his pale skin. Both Etri and Sol had one black marking on their forearms for as far back as they could remember. They had assumed these were birthmarks because when they'd asked their friends, no one else had anything like it or knew why they did. Even the priests and priestesses had expressed puzzlement before disciplining them for asking about the bodies of others.

Then one day a second mark appeared under the first, but only on Etri's arm. He remembered this clearly because it was the week he was admitted for training as an apprentice. This time he told no one except his brother. With Montglacian custom of keeping skin covered, no one else was likely to notice. Yet it was another Montglacian custom that destroyed Etri's future.

The moon and constellation were tattooed in the customary place on his arm to brand Etri's devotion to the god of shadow. Not even a week after the second mark had appeared, it was covered. Sol had kept his own magic a secret; not to keep his mark visible, although this was the fortunate side effect, but to keep himself from being sent to the sanctuary of light and away from his brother.

It wasn't until they fled Montglace that they learned these marks of strange script were words. It wasn't until they entered Concordia that they learned these words were names. And it wasn't until later that they realized what the names represented. By the time Etri learned Concordian, too much time had passed. He couldn't remember what his soul-marks had looked like in order to translate them.

All Etri knew was that he would have been loved by two people despite his past and everything he was. Now he would never find them. The markings of a discarded mythos covered the markings that would have given him a new purpose. He was an anomaly here and an exile there. Etri wrapped his arms around his knees and closed his eyes. Here on the roof where no one could see, he expressed the emotion his upbringing forced him to hide. So much of his life was hidden...

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It was quiet and dark inside Blythe's wagon, but Adair still couldn't sleep. An uneasy feeling nagged at him and he couldn't get comfortable on the thin mattress on the hard wood floor. Fluffing the pillow didn't help. Neither did counting sheep. Playing back the events of the day usually worked like a defense mechanism against the boredom of repetition and knocked him right out. Tonight it was useless.

He rolled over to his back and grimaced at the vocal complaints of the cat who had been sleeping on his legs. He murmured an apology and reached out to sooth her, but she was out of reach. When he heard the curtain of Blythe's bunk rustle, he knew the cat had found a more peaceful bed partner. "You're supposed to be my cat," he muttered.

All this twisting and turning had tangled him in the blankets. With a grunt he pulled his arms free then found himself staring at the soul-marks just like he did every time his sleeves bunched up. He didn't know why he bothered to look at them so much. His eidetic memory could tell him every futile letter that was on his forearm. Even a non-Artisan memory could have told him this since he'd seen them every day of his life. The fact that both marks had been there since birth meant that both of his supposed mates were older than him, for the fat lot of good that knowledge gave him in locating them.

He sighed and reached over to grab the paintbrush he'd left lying next to his makeshift bed. Now that he was thinking about the marks again, he couldn't break himself of the desire to see them clearly. He concentrated on the bristles of the brush and within a moment or two the tip began to glow violet, the color of his magic. It wasn't a vivid light, but it was always enough for a Weaver to see by. Assuming it wasn't the middle of a bright, sunny day, anyway. Arcane light also had the added benefit of not being visible to Blythe in case the cat had woken her up. Adair didn't want her asking what he was doing because then he'd have to show her these names. Or whatever they were.

Dreihda was a common woman's name. Too common. Adair had come across lots of Dreihdas, but none had ever had his name on their arms. That name was frustrating, but not the real problem. No, the real problem was the other name inscribed down his forearm. If it could be called a name. It looked more like a jumble of letters, like someone tossed a handful of blocks into a printing press. IEJNUARTE. Adair couldn't even begin to pronounce whatever it was. He'd never told anyone this, but he'd always feared this was some kind of mistake. Maybe an overused name combined with a sneeze of a word canceled each other out and meant he wasn't destined for anyone. It happened sometimes. Not everyone had soul markings. This could mean their mate wasn't born yet or had died or that they were simply aromantic and didn't want a mate. Yet this was a different case because there was something there and Adair did want his mates.

Adair flopped back onto his stomach and pulled his magic back out of the brush to douse the light. No one had ever been able to tell him what a letter scramble meant. Maybe his potential mate liked word games or maybe they were dyslexic. He refused to give up hope that IEJNUARTE was a person and not a mistake.

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Blythe startled when something landed on her stomach and instinct had her reaching for her dagger before her foggy mind made an identification. She placed the blade back on the window ledge when the assailant began to purr and knead at the blanket. While she ran her fingers through the cat's long fur she also mentally cursed at the animal for jolting her awake. Blythe had finally gotten to sleep after what felt like hours of staring at the indistinct ceiling of her bunk. She was pretty sure her conscience was the reason for her insomnia. Her conscience and a good helping of guilt, along with a side of resentment.

There were two culprits to blame for this. One slept on the floor below her, the other haunted the roof above her. She wasn't sure how she knew the latter for sure other than it being Etri's custom to sit there at night before he went back to his own wagon to sleep. No, that wasn't true. She knew how she knew. The answer was spelled on on her arm in thick, black, damning letters.

Adair's name could mean someone else. The name wasn't entirely rare, but coupled with the fact that Adair was here now, the name on her arm could only mean him. Especially when that soul-mark was paired with the second one.

Thanks to Sol's constant blathering about everything under the sun, a few months ago she picked up enough about Montglacian to know that the language was written back-to-front and right-to-left. Then one day Sol let slip that neither he nor his brother went by their birth names. Blythe wasn't stupid. She could put two and two together and get four. Or, in this case, two and two together meant ETRAUNJEI. She had been more than a little irritated to learn that her best friend was also the weird backwards name on her arm. It was easier to ignore that damned marking when she didn't know who it belonged to.

Blythe hated, loathed, and despised the idea of soul markings. The knowledge that she was destined for anything made her want to gnash her teeth together and possibly punch something. She had no desire to let anything besides her own choices control her life. That was why she kept her real name a secret. To everyone she was Blythe. Yet she knew without a doubt that the second name on Adair and Etri's arms would be Dreihda.

She sighed and brought her hands up so that she could rub at the tension headache forming behind her temples. That knowledge was the reason for her guilt and insistent conscience. She knew what neither of them knew and sooner or later she would have to tell them. Her eyelids flew open as a thought struck her. She didn't have to actually tell them everything, did she? She could perhaps drop subtly into conversation the fact that Montglacian was written backwards. If that wasn't enough for Adair to make the connection, she could always let slip that "Etri" was actually short for "Etraunjei". Although there could be a problem. Adair wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. If he still didn't get it, then… well, she'd just have to roll up his sleeve and push him at Etri. She knew better than to try to roll up Etri's sleeve! Etri could certainly read his own name, although why he hadn't yet told Adair about what was on his own arm left her a little baffled.

No matter. She had the perfect solution. Etri and Adair could be happy together and no one would have to know that her name was actually Dreihda. They didn't need their third mate. Blythe settled back into her pillow with a grin on her face. Now her guilt and resentment would be cleared away like a whetstone and cloth cleared rust from a blade.

Blythe pushed aside the third emotion that was trying to make itself heard now that the other two had been sated. She absolutely refused to feel any kind of regret. This was the best solution for all of them in that it was the only solution. She wouldn't let a handful of stupid letters dictate her future.

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